Why is modern rap incomprehensible

Hip hop and apocalypse

Florian Werner's excellent study of the "beginning of rap and the end of the world" moves effortlessly between the blues, the Wu-Tang clan and the Revelation of St. John

From Laslo Scholtze

Discussed books / references

Apocalyptic scenarios attract us irresistibly: H5N1 & Co., global warming, demographic catastrophe and extremist terror alternate as media fear makers. So-called experts second with gloomy forecasts. Even if the half-life of the reports is sometimes short, the presence and effect are guaranteed.

Futurologist and job optimist Matthias Horx sees this as a "catastrotainment" that secures the quota for the media. After all, that is homo sapiens Already biologically compelled to react very sensitively to existential alarm signals. It also means an increase in power for those who generate and control the codes of danger and fear.

Because anyone who has the authority to interpret climate data, demographic data, cultural or economic developments is in a position to alarm us: On a planet that is overheated by hurricanes and tidal waves, the Chinese will buy up Europe and Muslims will dominate our culture (which, however, is the case with one of insidious virus epidemics as a defensive battle, deformed life is hardly of any consequence).

Above all, however, the power to interpret the most pressing dangers can shape politics and opinion, which means: directing the flow of money. Catastrophism as a profitable means of rule for a new priesthood appears in the guise of the "expert", the politician and the "scientific study", thereby disguising its quasi-religious nature and making use of a fearful socio-structural depression - so far the short form of Horx 'Thesis on our European end-time visions.

In his book "Rapocalypse", which has just been published by transcript-Verlag in the series "Culture and Media Theory", Florian Werner examines an extremely lively and creative figure of apocalyptic promises, who can hardly be suspected of being in the service of rulership. Because the boom of the apocalypse in the public, media discourse contrasts with an at least as strong presence in art, more precisely in hip-hop of North American provenance. According to Werner, "this boom of eschatological interpretations of reality and history in Afro-American texts is not, however, an expression of submission to the prevailing discourse traditions of Judeo-Christian culture [...], but on the contrary can be seen as a sign of a subversive strategy of rewriting the culturally dominant are understood ".

Although the hip hop apocalypse is inspired by modern phenomena such as chemical weapons or outbreaks of violence in ghettos, it is anything but unhistorical. Rather, it can be traced back to the Puritan clergy of the 17th century who saw themselves as pioneers of the millennial kingdom of God. "Rapocalypse" traces the motivic genealogy of the end of the world within Afro-American musical styles such as the spirituals, the blues, the reggae or the "chanted sermons", as well as its cultural and historical origins from the biblical books that describe the end of the world. Werner's study is the first of its kind and is one of those scientific investigations that succeeds in synthesizing the analysis of relevant contemporary phenomena, their historical-cultural location and beneficial linguistic sovereignty.

The latter may be explained by the fact that Florian Werner is not only an Americanist, but also the author of short stories as well as musicians and lyricists for the group "Fön". His volume of short stories "We speak ourselves" was published by dtv in 2005, and the novel "K.L. McCoy: Mein Leben als Fön", written together with his "Fön" colleagues, was published by Piper in 2004.

"Rapocalypse" asks about the fascination of the apocalypse and the purposes that history has pursued with it. Werner shows how the biblical apocalypses came into being under conditions of political oppression and cultural deprivation, conditions that also led to an increased reception of the apocalyptic books in later times. The decisive influence for the Afro-American tradition comes from the Christianization of the slaves, which according to the opinion of the time should accelerate the coming of the kingdom of God. So the Afro-American apocalypse stands on the one hand under the sign of slavery, on the other hand under the sign of liberation. The typical chant of the "chanted sermon" can be understood with Werner as a link between the religious discourse of the spiritual and the secular genre of the blues: Afro-American preachers were "bluesmen" who used staccato rhythms and "blue notes" and at the same time the language of the apocalypse in the secular songs of the community carried. Even in sermons in the early 20th century, the language of the Revelation of John served the eschatological charge of historical upheavals such as the global economic crisis.

On the way from the houses of worship in the southern states to the ghettos of the New York Bronx, where rap originated in the 1970s, however, significant changes happened. Not least because of the "Nation of Islam" founded in 1930, which Werner explains as a hybrid of Islamic and Puritan traditions with connections to Rastafarianism. The apocalyptic mythology of the Black Muslims had an enormous influence on hip-hop culture and rap icons such as Africa Bambaataa, Public Enemy or Busta Rhymes.

Werner's impressive study at the interface of eschatological cultural history, music history and pop culture concludes with considerations of the functions that the popular saying about the "end of the world" fulfills.

Because "who speaks of the end of the world":

is heardbecause the apocalypse motif "carries the legitimation of the Holy Scriptures, the force of tradition and the loudness of an earthquake".

is only understood by insiderswho can read the code, for the uninitiated it remains "as incomprehensible as a fractured and codified graffitiDay".

has the truth on his sidebecause the subject of apocalyptic narratives is above all the circumstances of the present, which have to be changed, so that the end Not entry.

exaggerates and entertains at the same time - From Plato to Susan Sontag we consider what attracts us to the depiction of the suffering of others.

stages a tragedy according to almost Aristotelian standards, so that "the Revelation of John could even be understood as a script for an eschatological tragedy, for a 'cathartic performance'".

but at the same time stages a comedyin which the "laws of carnival" prevail, turning values ​​and hierarchies upside down. A "happy old world funeral" to make way for a new - and of course better - one. Or, to put it in the words of French-Senegalese hip-hopper MC Solaar: Fuck la terre, si je meurs voici mon testament ...

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